Coronavirus deaths rising in 30 U.S. states
amid winter surge
By David Crary
The Associated Press
January 19, 2021
NEW YORK (AP) — Coronavirus deaths are rising in nearly
two-thirds of American states as a winter surge pushed the
overall toll to more than 400,000 amid warnings that a new,
highly contagious variant is taking hold.
As Americans observed a national holiday Monday, New York
governor Andrew Cuomo pleaded with federal authorities to
curtail travel from countries where new variants are spreading.
Referring to new versions detected in Britain, South Africa,
and Brazil, Cuomo said: "Stop those people from coming here....
Why are you allowing people to fly into this country and then
it’s too late?"
The U.S. government has already curbed travel from some of
the places where the new variants are spreading — such as
Britain and Brazil — and recently it announced that it would
require proof of a negative COVID-19 test for anyone flying into
But the new variant seen in Britain is already spreading in
the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection has
warned that it will probably become the dominant version in the
country by March. The CDC said the variant is about 50% more
contagious than the virus that is causing the bulk of cases in
While the variant does not cause more severe illness, it can
cause more hospitalizations and deaths simply because it spreads
more easily. In Britain, it has aggravated a severe outbreak
that has swamped hospitals, and it has been blamed for sharp
leaps in cases in some other European countries.
As things stand, many U.S. states are already under
tremendous strain. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths
was rising in 30 states and the District of Columbia, and on
Monday the U.S. death toll surpassed 398,000, according to data
collected by Johns Hopkins University — by far the highest
recorded death toll of any country in the world.
Ellie Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the
Boston University School of Public Health, said cases have
proliferated in part because of gatherings for Christmas and New
Year — and compounded previous surges from Thanksgiving and the
return of students to schools and universities in the fall.
The pace of any further spread will depend on whether those
who did gather with family and friends quarantined afterward or
went back to school or work in person, she said.
One of the states hardest hit during the recent surge is
Arizona, where the rolling average has risen over the past two
weeks from about 90 deaths per day to about 160 per day on
"It’s kind of hard to imagine it getting a lot faster than it
is right now, because it is transmitting really fast right now,"
said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of the Biodesign Institute
research center at Arizona State University. "But there is some
evidence that Thanksgiving didn’t help things."
Rural Yuma County — known as the winter lettuce capital of
the U.S. — is now one of the state’s hot spots. Exhausted nurses
there are now regularly sending COVID-19 patients on a long
helicopter ride to hospitals in Phoenix when they don’t have
enough staff. The county has lagged on coronavirus testing in
heavily Hispanic neighborhoods and just ran out of vaccines.
But some support is coming from military nurses and a new
wave of free tests for farmworkers and the elderly in Yuma
Amid the rise in cases, a vast effort is underway to get
Americans vaccinated — what Cuomo called "a footrace" between
the vaccination rate and the infection rate. But the campaign is
off to an uneven start. According to the latest federal data,
about 31.2 million doses of vaccine have been distributed, but
only about 10.6 million people have received at least one dose.
In some cases, vaccine supplies thus far do not meet demand.
More than 172,000 people in Missouri’s St. Louis County have
registered for the vaccine, but the local health department so
far has only received 975 doses, said county executive Sam Page.
In California, the most populous state, counties are pleading
for more vaccine as the state tries to reduce a high rate of
infection that has led to record numbers of hospitalizations and
Although the state last week said anyone age 65 and older can
start receiving the vaccine, Los Angeles County and some others
have said they don’t have enough to immunize so many people.
They are concentrating on protecting healthcare workers and the
most vulnerable elderly in care homes first.
On Monday, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified
School District sent a letter asking for state and county
authorization to provide vaccinations at schools for staff,
local community members — and for students once a vaccine for
children has been approved.
The death rate from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County — an
epicenter of the U.S. pandemic — works out to about one person
every six minutes. On Sunday, the South Coast Air Quality
Management District suspended some pollution-control limits on
the number of cremations for at least 10 days in order to deal
with a backlog of bodies at hospitals and funeral homes.
In other areas of the country, officials are working to
ensure that people take the vaccine once they’re offered it amid
concerns that many people are hesitant. Maryland governor Larry
Hogan, in a livestreamed event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day,
received a shot, and urged other Marylanders to do likewise.
"We’re all looking forward to the day we can take off and
throw away our masks," Hogan said. "The only way we are going to
return to a sense of normalcy is by these COVID-19 vaccines."
But challenges to the vaccine campaign are surfacing
The World Health Organization (WHO) chief on Monday lambasted
drugmakers’ profits and vaccine inequalities, saying it’s "not
right" that younger, healthier adults in some wealthy countries
get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people or
healthcare workers in poorer countries.
Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lamented that one
country received a mere 25 doses while over 39 million doses
have been administered in nearly 50 richer nations.
"Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country —
not 25 million, not 25,000 — just 25. I need to be blunt: The
world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure," Tedros
said. He did not specify the country, but a WHO spokeswoman
identified it as Guinea.
AP writers Suman Naishadham in Phoenix and Colleen Slevin in
Denver contributed to this report.